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Jesus or Ayn Rand - can conservatives claim both?
Author Ayn Rand stands in New York City in this 1957 photo. Her criticism of religion outraged some, but her books remain popular.
June 29th, 2011
10:22 AM ET

Jesus or Ayn Rand - can conservatives claim both?

By John Blake, CNN

(CNN)– Can a person follow Ayn Rand and Jesus?

That’s the question posed by a provocative media campaign that claims that some prominent conservative leaders cannot serve two masters: Jesus and the controversial author of  "Atlas Shrugged," Ayn Rand.

The American Values Network, a group of political activists and pastors, sparked a debate when it recently released a video challenging some conservative and Republican leaders’ professed admiration for Rand,  an atheist who saw selfishness as a virtue and celebrated unfettered capitalism.

Eric Sapp,  AVN’s executive director, said the Republican Party cannot portray itself as a defender of Christian values and then defend the worldview of "the patron saint of selfishness" who scorned religion and compassion.

Sapp singled out Republican leaders such as Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, and talk radio host Rush Limbaugh after all of them expressed admiration for Rand.

Ryan,  architect of the GOP’s propsed budget and Medicare plan, once said that Rand’s philosophy was “sorely needed right now,” and that she did a great job of explaining “the morality of capitalism.”

Sapp sees little morality in Rand's worldview:

Rand said religion was ‘evil,’ called the message of John 3:16 ‘monstrous,’ argued that the weak are beyond love and undeserving of it, that loving your neighbor was immoral and impossible…

Sapp cited conservative leader Chuck Colson who released a video condemning Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” as a silly novel that “peddles a starkly anti-Christian philosophy.”

Sapp added:

Hard to reconcile leaders of ‘God’s Own Party’ praising someone who is about as anti Christ as one can get, huh?”

Onkar Ghate, a senior fellow at the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights in Washington, said the philosophies of Christianity and Ayn Rand are incompatible.

Jesus taught that people should love and serve others, including their enemies. Rand taught that people's fundamental focus should be on their individual happiness, he said:

 I don’t think what Ayn Rand advocates in 'Atlas Shrugged' and what Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount are compatible. She’s an egoist and therefore an individualist.  Jesus is advocating altruism and collectivism.

Rand died in 1982, but she remains polarizing. The great recession has triggered new interest in her novel, “Atlas Shrugged.” The book depicts a bleak future where the U.S. government has seized control of private industry and discouraged innovation.

The book may have been rooted in Rand's childhood trauma. She was born in Russia in 1905, and saw the Communist Party come to power in a violent revolution. Her family was left destitute after party officials seized her father’s business.

She immigrated to the United States where she eventually became a screenwriter. She ultimately made her mark through her novels. Critics say Rand’s characters were stilted mouthpieces for her philosophy of  Objectivism, which insists that individuals should be driven by “rational self-interest.”  Still, "Atlas Shrugged" is now considered one of the most influential books of the 20th century.

Rand's philosophy didn’t say much good about religion. In a 1964 Playboy interview posted on the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights site, she said that religious faith is “a negation of human reason” and charity wasn’t a virtue.

Rand told Playboy:

There is nothing wrong in helping other people, if and when they are worthy of the help and you can afford to help them. I regard charity as a marginal issue. What I am fighting is the idea that charity is a moral duty and a primary virtue.

Defenders of Rand say that a person can adopt elements of Rand’s philosophy and reject whatever clashes with their faith.

Yaron Brooks, president of the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights, also defended Rand’s philosophy in a recent CNN.com commentary.

He said while people call Jesus or Mother Teresa heroes, they should use the same description for people like 19th century oil tycoon, John D. Rockefeller and inventor and businessman, Thomas Edison.

Their pursuit of personal profit is a virtue because it enriches society, not just individuals, Brooks said.

Brooks wrote:

It is they, not the Mother Teresas of the world that we should strive to be like and teach our kids the same.

Elections, some say, are ultimately a contest of ideas. It’ll be interesting to see if those political leaders who admire Rand continue to talk openly about her philosophy as the 2012 presidential campaign escalates.

Or will they deflect a question I suspect they’ll hear again and again:

How can you invoke Jesus and follow Rand?

- CNN Writer

Filed under: Belief • Books • Business • Christianity • Culture wars • Economy • Ethics • Politics

soundoff (1,025 Responses)
  1. Johnintally

    How do you invoke Jesus and follow Rand?
    You don't.
    Invoke (plausible ideas of) Rand and follow Jesus.

    June 29, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
    • Paul Majors

      The best reply is to quote Ayn Rand herself, From the following you can deduce that she would not either call herself or align with "conservatives." So, in a sense, the AVN is correct but for the WRONG reasons!

      "Objectivists are not “conservatives.” We are radicals for capitalism; we are fighting for that philosophical base which capitalism did not have and without which it was doomed to perish . . .
      Politics is based on three other philosophical disciplines: metaphysics, epistemology and ethics—on a theory of man’s nature and of man’s relationship to existence. It is only on such a base that one can formulate a consistent political theory and achieve it in practice. When, however, men attempt to rush into politics without such a base, the result is that embarrassing conglomeration of impotence, futility, inconsistency and superficiality which is loosely designated today as “conservatism.” . . .
      Today’s culture is dominated by the philosophy of mysticism (irrationalism)—altruism—collectivism, the base from which only statism can be derived; the statists (of any brand: communist, fascist or welfare) are merely cashing in on it—while the “conservatives” are scurrying to ride on the enemy’s premises and, somehow, to achieve political freedom by stealth. It can’t be done.
      “Choose Your Issues,” The Objectivist Newsletter, Jan. 1962, 1.

      What are the “conservatives”? What is it that they are seeking to “conserve”?
      It is generally understood that those who support the “conservatives,” expect them to uphold the system which has been camouflaged by the loose term of “the American way of life.” The moral treason of the “conservative” leaders lies in the fact that they are hiding behind that camouflage: they do not have the courage to admit that the American way of life was capitalism, that that was the politico-economic system born and established in the United States, the system which, in one brief century, achieved a level of freedom, of progress, of prosperity, of human happiness, unmatched in all the other systems and centuries combined—and that that is the system which they are now allowing to perish by silent default.
      If the “conservatives” do not stand for capitalism, they stand for and are nothing; they have no goal, no direction, no political principles, no social ideals, no intellectual values, no leadership to offer anyone.
      Yet capitalism is what the “conservatives” dare not advocate or defend. They are paralyzed by the profound conflict between capitalism and the moral code which dominates our culture: the morality of altruism . . . Capitalism and altruism are incompatible; they are philosophical opposites; they cannot co-exist in the same man or in the same society."
      “Conservatism: An Obituary,” Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, 194.

      June 29, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
  2. Mustang95

    Given that some "conservative thinkers" (is that an oxymoron, given the lockstep adherence to the talking points of Limbaugh, Beck and other prophets?) seem to want to mold public policy based on the rantings of fictional characters created by a hypocrite who railed against socialist and collectivist principles and then collected her Medicare and Social Security benefits later in life, can we also consider alternatives? How about borrowing principles from the political subtexts of the Lord of the Rings trilogy or Harry Potter. Better yet, how about the Dune novels. "Down with the Kochs!" ... er, I mean "Down with the Harkonnens!" Makes about as much sense as taking John Galt's advice on how to run a civilized, compassionate society.

    June 29, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
  3. RightturnClyde

    How many of you have adopted an orphan? How many work more than 5 hours each week in an extended care home or care for patients without pay? How many of you regularly feed homeless people (daily basis). How many of you have homeless people bathing in your home? How many of your teach literacy for free? How many have given $5 to any charity this week?

    June 29, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
    • Ben

      what right do you have to ask?

      June 29, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
    • JudgewhatDay?

      <- raises hand

      June 29, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
    • barabbas2010

      ewwwww . . homeless people bathing in my home . . . ewwwwwww !!!!

      June 29, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
  4. Vandalay Industries

    Religion, abortion and other hotbutton social issues are only included in the republican platform because there aren't enough rich people to win elections on their own...

    June 29, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
  5. Topkatt

    Republican's are NOT CHRISTIAN'S! They are Mammonites! They will do ANYTHING to gain controlling power and money. They deceive true believers just so that they can get their votes. Conservatives want a Plutocratic Theocracy to rule as the kings they imagine themselves to be. They have manipulated the abortion issue to remove power from God and give it to themselves. God did not save his own Son, and Christ did not save himself or punish his murderers. Yet they want to remove the choice of a woman to control her own destiny. They feel they are better than God. They are the children of Satan incarnate and promote despair and poverty, so there will always be someone desperate enough to serve the Conservative agenda.

    June 29, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
    • Vandalay Industries

      You are absolutely correct... and if republicans would shed the fake religion and phony hot-button issues like abortion and guns and be true to that philosophy that greed is good I would vote for them every time.

      June 29, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
    • barabbas2010

      Hey ! topkatt !!! don't be dissin Mammonites !
      I spent 2 weeks in Western Mammonia last year and they seem like very fine people. I especially enjoyed the accordion solo.

      June 29, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
  6. Charles

    Ayn Rand was a great admirer of Nietzsche, her books are poorly written and her ideas outdated and inhumane. Nabokov was a far better and more influential writer and he knew it, CNN also failed to mention that after “Atlas Shrugged” her books sold very poorly.
    Most people of the 2008 Wall Street Debacle including Greenspan are admirers of Ayn Rand.

    June 29, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
  7. Badpav

    Great Article. I've said for years that I don't understand how any bible believer could adhere to to Rand's philosophy. I've reade 3 of her novels, and you can summarize her philosophy to this: the worth of a person is directly proportional to the productive capability of that person. This is 180 degrees from the crux of the bible in every sense. Ayn Rand's ideal world might have a lot of nice things, and capable people, but wouldn't live there

    June 29, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
  8. JudgeWhatDay?

    I'm not a Christian, but even I find the comparison of Jesus and John D. Rockefeller offensive. I'm an atheist but disagree with Rand completely. We need to help each other out and have love and compassion for one another–someday we might be the ones who need the compassion of others. It's simply a better survival strategy.

    June 29, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
    • The good people, atheist and religious

      Most fail to see the future. Whites will one day become the extreme minority. Our actions today just might dictate how our children, assuming white, will be treated in the future. We create the separation. Yet we are all human beings living together, religion is just one more to separate us rather than to unite us. Our minds are equal, no matter what our ethnic background or religious belief.

      If this were a Muslim country, the Christians here would be Muslim today – they are just more pliable people is all, more easily fooled. If Muslim countries had been Christian instead, then expect the same 911. Then again the wars following, the deaths of innocent women and children – all to get even. All from a country that claims to be Christian

      Remember history, the inquisition? Far more harmed than in 911. That's just reality.

      June 29, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
    • Bubba

      Right, there's nothing in the world except things and people, and people simply have a higher value than things. Life is both hard and stinks, people are azzhats, frying pans without fires are few and far between, and if we don't all hang together we will all hang separately. God can come pitch in any time He wants, but other people are more reliable.

      June 29, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
  9. realdeal

    Who cares? One's an outdated myth used to help people fill the holes in their lives, the other is a crap writer (and freakin' ugly too! who knew?) Seriously, The Fountainhead was a good book, but Atlas Shrugged has to be the worst piece of drivel I've ever wasted my time reading. But the people who like Atlas Shrugged are the same people who will like what you tell them to like, so Rush listeners seem like a good place to start.

    June 29, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
    • fred

      Not a myth anymore than George Washington was a myth. I looked at myth references of Jesus as often pointed to on this site and one really needs to go out on a limb to deny the reality of Christ and his 70 Apostles. Once someone goes to such extreme to deny the reality of Christ they are no different than those who say the world is only 4,000 years old because the Bible told me so.

      June 29, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
    • JerseyDave

      Rush fans like what they choose to like. It's no longer cool to be a Rush fan (it was for a few yrs in the early 80's where I grew up), so they clearly aren't listening to all those saying Rush suck (e.g. Rolling Stone). Go to a Rush concert and you will see a wide variety of people with a wide variety of tastes and values. Please tell us what bands we should like instead?

      June 29, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
    • Jimi Hendrix

      Here we go again with the amateur trolls: you think Rush is bad, and of course the band you think is so much better is . . . well, you didn't say. I bet you have every CD Britney ever made, or maybe Vetter's new set of ukelele songs? Please let us know so we can begin to mock you, and next time, remember that music is subjective and everyone's taste is different.

      June 29, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
  10. AmazingSteve

    I think it's worth pointing out that republicans didn't really pretend to adopt Rand's philosophies until after she died. If they had tried this crap when she was alive, I imagine she would have been rather hostile to a religious party trying to claim it agreed with her.

    June 29, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
  11. Wulfbait

    When I read Atlas Shrugged I never once thought about religion. I think people knowing Rand's background read more into the book than was there. Sometimes ignorance is bliss. Also, I feel that religion is the "root of all evil" I was brought up going to church as a Christian. I am spritual but do not follow any one religion. Since all religions basically say the same thing, except for Islam apparently, I don't see why there is such a problem between religions. When I hear of extreemist Buddists or radical Baptists I may change my mind.

    June 29, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
    • AmazingSteve

      Possibly you missed all the sections of the book specifically about religion? I think I remember her, at one point, specifically calling religion "the murderer of the mind", or something similar.

      June 29, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
  12. IndependentReader

    Since we are talking about taking concepts to the ultra extreme and not "picking and choosing" concepts or ideas, to be anti-Rand would require absolute taxation. That's right. 100% of your paycheck would have to be taken by the federal government and then they will decide what percentage of your income you actually needed and redistribute it back to you. That is the concept Rand is speaking out against. Please take the time to read the book before criticizing and aligning the author's views of one particular subject with the whole spectrum of her views on all subjects.

    June 29, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
    • Me

      Huh?

      June 29, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
    • Eddy

      Isn't that like saying if you don't like chocolate ice cream you have to love vanilla ice cream?

      Perhaps I like mint chocolate chip.

      June 29, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
    • IndependentReader

      I thought I was perfectly clear. If you are against Rand, then you support 100% taxation. It's in the book. Read it.

      June 29, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
    • IndependentReader

      @ Eddy – Isn't that what the article said? If I love Jesus, then I can't love Ayn Rand's book?

      June 29, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
    • Eddy

      No, it says that the core values of Christianity (as originally taught by Jesus) and Ayn Rand are not compatible.

      June 29, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
    • IndependentReader

      @ Eddy – Fair enough. But the book 'Atlas Shrugged' does not epitomize the whole of Ayn Rand's views. It is a political book about the clashes between capitalism and socialism. Therefore, claiming that I can't share her political beliefs without sharing her religious beliefs is ridiculous.

      June 29, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
    • Eddy

      You probably could share some of her political beliefs, although not all of them, without conflicting with Christianity. However, you probably couldn't share the underlying reasons for her political beliefs and be compatible with Christianity. One of the basis for her political beliefs is that all religion is an irrational fraud which compels people to act against their best interest. At the very least you would have to reject that one to maintain compatibility with Christianity.

      June 29, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
    • Bubba

      "to be anti-Rand would require absolute taxation." Because you say so? Being anti-Rand just means you think her silly books are silly, not that you have to go on a crusade against every one of her silly ideas.

      June 29, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
    • IndependentReader

      @ Eddy – I believe that particular belief has been misinterpreted. Rand did not believe that one should reject religion because it goes against oneself, but that people should have the right to choose the sacrifices they can afford to make.

      June 29, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
    • IndependentReader

      @ Bubba – It is in the book. The characters are rebelling against a government that is attempting to take all of their income so that it can be redistributed based on the government's perception of need. To say that an individual that follows Rand's philosophies must follow it to the letter and not "pick and choose" from it or they are a hypocrite, means that you support 100% taxation.

      June 29, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
    • IndependentReader

      @ Bubba – Basically, I'm making a point. To call someone a hypocrite that is Christian and believes in Ayn Rand's political philosphies, then you must support absolute taxation or be a hypocrite yourself.

      June 29, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
    • Eddy

      If you watch her discussions on altruism that is her argument regarding religion and altruism. She makes the same argument about state sponsored and altruism.

      June 29, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
  13. RightturnClyde

    Is it NOT self interest to tax ONE CITIZEN and hand it to another for voting? Charity is VOLUNTARY. Government confiscation and redistribution is NOT charity. There is a difference. You ought to have plenty of gumption to raise kids and give them a good start (such as education). Liberals just have them and let them subsist on the streets until they are old enough to spawn more of the same. (It that being kind to your kids?) Is it virtue?)

    The primary liberal them is to rob from the haves and give to Democrat voters. Is that what Jesus believed? How can liberals DENY the existence of Jesus and then insist so strongly that OTHERS follow Jesus? How can they bellow atheism and a licentious life of s_ex, dr_ugs, me*rder, drun_keness, and prisons .. like the Hollywood heros ...is Lohan virtue? Liberals shout Christian virtue while living the a godless life. Liberal double-speak

    June 29, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
    • Shamrock6

      I'm liberal with pepperoni on pizzas.

      June 29, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
    • JP

      I am a liberal and an atheist and from the sound of you I think you probably believe that blacks are lesser humans than whites too! Am I right Rightturn idiot?

      June 29, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
    • Topkatt

      Boy is that the pot calling the kettle black or what. Conservatives are the spawn of Satan. Christ would have nothing to do with them or their greed and selfishness.

      June 29, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
    • Bubba

      Actually, I live a clean and blameless life and have a socially-beneficial job, and I think you are a turd for calling me all these names. Everything you say there is a lie, and you sound like a schizophrenic person who lives under a bridge. I'm happily married, work for a living, and my kid went to school instead of 'subsisting on the streets(wow, you ARE crazy).' If you believe what you posted, you are insane; if not, you are an unChristian liar and ought to be ashamed. Either way, you are a waste of tme.

      June 29, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
    • Laughing

      Please don't tell me you actually believe any of that garbage you spewed. The utter falseness of it was enough to make my stomach turn.

      June 29, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
  14. Ed

    Let's get it straight...no person can follow a doctrine, religious or otherwise 100%, period. People follow parts of belief systems, not the entire thing, so yes, people can follow Jesus and Ayn Rand, it's just that they follow only the parts of each they they feel apply to them. Why is this so hard for people to comprehend?

    June 29, 2011 at 3:19 pm |
    • JP

      Because it is not a rational thought to pcik and choose what suits you best! How ignorant!!!

      June 29, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
  15. Bree82

    This just in...Jesus is a lie. Ayn Rand actually existed. You pick who might have more knowledge 🙂

    June 29, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
    • Henry

      There is actually no serious debate as to whether or not Jesus existed just as to whether or not he was divine.

      June 29, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
    • Bree82

      My apologies Henry.....I never questioned it. Reading some of the responses though I figured I may as well bring it on out

      June 29, 2011 at 3:19 pm |
    • Bruce

      If we are to understand Jesus as a character in a story we can read, a story that may or may not have happened as it is told to us, bears more of a resemblance to John Galt than to Ayn Rand.

      That would be a more-apt comparison, and a more-apt choice to give to those considering these two very disparate sets of ideas.

      June 29, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
  16. Lando

    Who cares? They both had unrealistic philosophies.

    June 29, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
    • Chris

      ...and the floating cloud cities policy's are? LoL

      June 29, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
  17. Lenny

    You can actually trace Ayn Rand's thought process through recorded interviews. On a very basic level it breaks down to;

    Religion -> Altruism -> Nazi/Communists

    June 29, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
    • Emmitt Langley

      Nazis are socialists...Ayn Rand is as anti socialist are you can get.

      June 29, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
    • Lenny

      Emmitt

      Yes. She believed religion led to altruism which lead to Nazis and Communists. It really is flawed thinking but that was the core of her belief system.

      June 29, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
    • Me

      National Socialism and socialism are not the same thing. Fascism and National Socialism grew as a movement for the explicit purpose of fighting Marxism. The fact that Hitler's Germany, Mussolini's Italy, Franco's Spain, and Stalin's USSR all ended up becoming totalitarian (which is more, I think, what you are after) has more to do with the personality cults involved than with political theory.

      June 29, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
    • Kool-Aid is Yummy

      "Nazis are socialists"

      History fail.

      June 29, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
    • Satan

      'Nazis are socialists', no– i'm pretty sure they were fascists. In fact they sent socialists to concentration camps along with the jews and pretty much anyone who disagreed with them.

      June 29, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
    • Peter

      Fascism isn't an economic system as much as overall societal framework. The Nazis were an absolutist dictatorship that used a mix of socialist and capitalist economic systems, depending on what was convenient to them for meeting their goals at the time.

      June 29, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
  18. mightyfudge

    Ayn Rand is just an excuse for selfish greedy people to be selfish and greedy. Her writings are the literary equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel.

    June 29, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
    • Chris

      How about citing some evidence instead of just stating your opinion...that way people might change their views.

      June 29, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
  19. RightturnClyde

    Rand did not see selfishness as a virtue (liberals read so poorly they cannot Rand). Rand saw self reliance as a virtue .. initiative, industriousness, intelligent self investment and development. Obviously that is NOT socialism (stealing from one and giving it to another - for votes) John Blacke *who* is the defender of Christian virtues? Is it Jonathan Ed_wards? Lindsay Lo_han? Reverend Wright? Bill Ayers? Soros? The PLO? the Saudis? It is the Labor Unions who defend Christian virtue? Hardly. So you want to castigate the Republicans? Is this about virtue or about politics - votes? Is paying healthy men and women to be lazy a virtue? Is it virtue to allow your country to be over_run with impoverished aliens? Was Communism a "good thing" for Russia? Was Stalin an example of virtue? He m*rdered 50,000,000 people for political convenience (Mao murdered 70,000,000) Was that virtue?

    June 29, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
    • Shamrock6

      I just burped and it sounded like a Jeff Beck lick. It was like.....brrawr! Sweet.

      June 29, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
    • Kool-Aid is Yummy

      Wow. Lot of action. Lot. Of. Action.

      June 29, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
    • Bubba

      "(liberals read so poorly they cannot Rand)" You win the Internet Award of the Day. Hey, can any of you other liberals Rand? I sure can't, but who'd WANT to?

      June 29, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
  20. TheyNotHim

    LOL

    "Defenders of Rand say that a person can adopt elements of Rand’s philosophy and reject whatever clashes with their faith."

    Just like they do with the Bible...

    June 29, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.